Monday, August 28, 2006

Beyond Consequences

This is an excerpt from a recent newsletter from the Beyond Consequences Institute. (
Although Heather Forbes is responding to a parent, her words and methods of thought also apply directly to our work in treatment settings.

QUESTION: I understand that my adopted daughter has a trauma history, but if I'm not giving consequences, then doesn't my child think that her behavior is okay? I'm struggling because it isn't acceptable to be disrespectful to me. I have to say that her behavior is so appalling! I understand how reacting can be disempowering -- but what can I do that's empowering in that moment that sends the right message to her?

ANSWER: If we go back to the understanding that negative behavior comes from an unconscious place (see Chapter 1, Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control), we can begin to see that the disrespect is about something much deeper. This level of disrespect began in early relationships where her own needs were never respected. She is simply acting out of the model that was imprinted within her system in years prior. As our book mentions, those are the patterns that bind us. If you work to change the behavior in the moment of her distress, you will find yourself becoming frustrated at the lack of change. This is because we cannot learn when we are stress out. Stress inhibits our cognitive thinking. So the life lesson of being respectful even when angry needs to come when she is calm and regulated. Work to calm her nervous system and calm her emotional state. Really listen to her. Many times children (and we as adults) become disrespectful, rude, and/or loud because we don't feel like we are being heard. Connect with the disrespect instead of trying to shut it down. When you truly listen to what is behind the disrespect, you will find the depth of pain and fear your daughter is experiencing. Saying something like, "Sweetheart, when you speak disrespectfully, that only tells me that you're hurting inside. It also tells me that someone must have really disrespected you. (feel that pain for her, apologize for how she was treated, join her instead of correcting her....etc.)" She needs you to help her to connect with her pain; it is too painful and too scary to connect with it on her own. She is reacting at you because feeling her level of pain is overwhelming to her entire system. Thus, the message you will be sending back to her at that very moment is one of respect, compassion, and love. You will be giving her the message that strengthening your relationship with her is your primary goal-that she is more important to you than anything else on this planet. Certainly the long-term goal is to teach our children to be respectful to their parents and that we should live a life of obedience. Yet when this lesson is given in the heat of the moment, defensive, disrespectful, and defiant feedback loops are created between parent and child (see Chapter 4, Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control). And the most important point is:

The real consequence is that relationships become broken
and the relationship's focus becomes control and power.

So, an hour later, that evening, or sometime when you both are better connected, talk to her about the disrespect and discuss options and ways to handle it differently the next time. Express your reactions to her behavior and how it makes you feel. Perhaps relate a story of your own experience and from your past that would connect with her. All of this will begin to help her to learn how to connect with herself when she begins to get stressed out and dysregulated. This will empower her to come to you for help in a loving and respectful way and it will empower her to develop her own regulatory ability to handle stressful situations as an adult. Parenting out of this love-based approach is hard work. In most cases, it would be much easier to give out a consequence and be done with it. Yet, when we truly understand that behavior does not come from a cognitive, rational place, we realize that giving consequences is actually quite irrational and illogical. The Beyond Consequences Institute (BCI) was not established to help parents and professionals simply learn a new technique. Rather, BCI is about learning an entire new paradigm. It is a paradigm that you live out of and a paradigm in which your perspective of the world is forever changed-a perspective whose foundation is based in love and in the understanding that power does not come from control, but through loving influence.

Heather Forbes, LCSW
Beyond Consequences Institute, LLC
631 N. Hyer Avenue
Orlando, FL 32803